Man Sets Himself Ablaze Outside Trump Trial, Spreads Conspiracy Theories

A Florida resident, Max Azzarello, 37, set himself on fire outside a Manhattan courthouse where a trial related to former President Donald Trump’s hush money was taking place. Azzarello, who identifies himself as an “investigative researcher,” has reportedly become increasingly erratic over the past year, disseminating conspiracy theories about the “elites” in a comprehensive manifesto.

Before setting himself on fire in Collect Pond Park, Azzarello scattered a pile of pamphlets that contained links to a Substack newsletter, presumably written by him, titled “The Ponzi Papers.” The newsletter’s leading article, titled “I have set myself on fire outside of the Trump Trial,” is filled with conspiracy theories ranging from cryptocurrency and Hollywood actors to COVID-19 and former President Bill Clinton.

Azzarello’s family was reportedly unaware of his out-of-state travel. He was seen outside the Lower Manhattan courthouse at 100 Centre St. just a day before the incident, holding a sign that read, “Trump is with Biden and they’re about to fascist coup us.” He also shouted at a group of reporters, promising them the “biggest scoop of their life.”

In his manifesto, Azzarello claimed that both Republicans and Democrats have been manipulating the public with various existential crises to create a doomsday scenario. He accused the “elites” of instilling fear to accumulate wealth before pulling the rug out from under the public, leading to a “hellish fascist dystopia.”

Azzarello’s past includes a stint as a growth manager for the nonprofit Strong Towns, as revealed in a 2017 blog post that has since been removed. He also co-hosted a podcast dedicated to actress Laura Dern, titled “Dern After Reading Podcast,” which began in early 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States.

In 2023, Azzarello filed a lawsuit against former President Bill Clinton and 100 other influential figures, alleging a conspiracy. The case was dismissed in October when Azzarello failed to submit the necessary court filings. Other defendants in the case included Mark Cuban, Richard Branson, the country of Saudi Arabia, and Texas billionaire Ross Perot, who passed away in 2019.

Following the incident, NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny referred to it as “propaganda”-based during a press conference. NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry added that the incident wasn’t targeting any particular person and labeled Azzarello as a conspiracy theorist.